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The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups Paperback – January 8, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Acclaimed journalist Rosenbaum, New York Observer columnist and cultural omnivore (Explaining Hitler), conveys the impassioned arguments of leading directors and scholars concerning how Shakespeare should be printed and performed. "Hearing Sir Peter Hall pound his fists in fury over the vital importance of a pause at the close of a pentameter line, for instance—wonderful!" Rosenbaum enthuses. Elsewhere he recalls how seeing Peter Brook's definitive 1970 production of A Midsummer Night's Dream inspired Rosenbaum's "outsider's odyssey into the innermost citadels of scholarship" to investigate the painstaking work of Shakespearean textual experts as they convert the Bard's earliest published works into authoritative editions. Evoking the clashing methodologies and discourses of scholars, the dizzying depths of lexicographic databases and a rare instance of Shakespeare's voice transcribed in a court proceeding, Rosenbaum captures with clarity and wry humor the obsessive fervor, theoretical about-turns and occasional scholarly fiasco that characterize this arcane world. He considers the politics of portraying Shylock and Falstaff, appraises Shakespeare on film and provocatively comments on the work of such influential critics as Harold Bloom, Stephen Greenblatt and Stephen Booth. Balancing academic reportage with his own lively observations, Rosenbaum wrestles with the weightiest issues of Shakespeare studies in a down-to-earth manner that readers will applaud. (Sept. 26)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Ron Rosenbaum, whose analysis in Explaining Hitler: The Search for the Origins of Evil (1998) was well received, is a journalist by trade and a Shakespeare enthusiast by calling. In The Shakespeare Wars, the author articulates to a well-read lay audience his passion for the work and describes the internecine squabbling that often characterizes Shakespeare studies. In so doing, Rosenbaum comes up against a few obstacles, not the least his lengthy meditations on issues that may strike the reader as unworthy of the space devoted to them. Even the critics who admire the author's passion and his knowledge of the subject agree that the book is longer than it needs to be. If you are as captivated by Shakespeare as the author, however, join a kindred spirit in celebrating the Bard.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product Details

  • Paperback: 624 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (January 8, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812978366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812978360
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.3 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #427,117 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 115 people found the following review helpful By Jim Coughenour on October 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a volume of gustatory delights -- a book you pick up on impulse and end up devouring with your meals (my copy is spotted with olive oil and specks of latte foam). Rosenbaum has written an autobiography of his obsession with Shakespeare, triggered by a conversion experience when he saw a 1970 Peter Brooks production of A Midsummer Night's Dream. One hears a bit too often about his precious handful of epiphanies, and Rosenbaum (like Harold Bloom, whom he castigates) can easily be faulted for his enthusiasm, but there's no doubt that he brings a host of seemingly desiccated academic controversies to life. Until last week I had no idea there were two versions of Lear or three versions of Hamlet, or that I could be made to care about Shakespeare's original spelling enough to order every play I could find edited by John Andrews.

In fact, reading Rosenbaum turned out to be an expensive experience. Thanks to his infectious interest and spirited recommendations (I'm tempted to say the book is worth having for its Bibliographic Notes), I've purchased Stephen Booth's old edition of the Sonnets, Ann Thompson's new edition of Hamlet, and Russ McDonald's Shakespeare and the Arts of Language -- and that was only the beginning of a ruinous week on Amazon. Rosenbaum also makes a strong case for republishing out-of-print classics such as Empson's Milton's God and Booth's Essay on Shakespeare's Sonnets; I hope someone's listening.

So I award Shakespeare Wars five stars for enthusiasm -- not only its author's but that which it excites in readers like me, who generally skip those bulky Arden introductions. (Now I'll read them with gratitude.
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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
In studying and teaching the Bard, I always wonder if I am over-praising or under-estimating Shakespeare's achievement. "Is it him or is it we who are not making sense?" (524) Rosenbaum replies we are at fault. But this is a "felix culpa," a happy fault. He energetically plows through dozens of topics revolving around reactions of critics and directors of Shakespeare. This is not a biography; Rosenbaum has choice words for Stephen Greenblatt's recent "Will in the World." Rosenbaum's dogged pace shows his journalistic knack for standing outside the "public fiascos, palace coups" of his book's subtitle, the better to examine "clashing scholars." Digging in, he holds his ground against formidable experts.

He's able to summarize Stephen Bloom's rhetorical application of antanaclasis in Sonnet 40: "like pulsating alliteration, evokes a sense of insecurity, of flux, of motion..." (471) This whole book, in fact, is Rosenbaum's effort to come to grips with a day as a grad student at Yale when he first realized this disassociation, this suspension between meanings, this either-and-or-plus-more capability that he argues Shakespeare, more than any other writer ever, at his best conveys to us. Still, this "exegetical despair" at never having enough time to get to the bottom of Shakespeare's "floating signifiers" persists.

In fact, Rosenbaum's status as a drop-out from an Ivy League doctoral program in English enables him to return to textual studies, critical debates, academic cogitation, and performance anxieties with aplomb-- and perhaps a wish to settle scores with fusty scholars and fussy thespians.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Kimberly on December 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This book is a must have for anyone who is interested in Shakespeare or in literature, or for anyone who enjoys seeing a person talk about an overriding passion. The author's enthusiasm for reading Shakespeare's works is apparent in every line of this marvelous book, and holds a seductive power of its own. Think you'd be bored to tears by scholars' debates over whether King Lear did or didn't say two lines at the end of the play in Shakespeare's original draft? Think again - Ron Rosenbaum makes this and so many other topics into a book I literally could not tear myself away from. His fascinating exploration of Shakespearean textual scholarship and the joys that come from a close reading of the text opened up a whole new world for me. As soon as I finished this book, I picked up Shakespeare's Sonnets, and was amazed at how much I hadn't noticed before.

If Ron Rosenbaum ever reads this review, let me say thank you from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful book and for rekindling my interest in a long-standing but recently dormant love of my own. This book was a transformative experience for me.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Gerard D. Launay on March 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
With so many excellent books about Shakespeare, where do you start...with Harold Bloom or Ron Rosenbaum? What book would you give to the teenager who is afraid of the Bard. I would select this book, not because it contains the best analysis of the plays, but because it imparts an infectious enthusiasm that is irrepressible. Over and over again, the author talks about how HE reacts to a performance or a line or a film of the Bard...and that is good. He starts with his overwhelming experience of seeing (Peter Brook's) Midsummer Night's Dream in Britain, an experience perhaps similar to the ecstasy of St. Theresa in brushing close to God. (I never saw that performance but I was impressed with Max Reinhardt's black and white film of the DREAM produced in 1935)

Let's take an example of how he approaches Shakespeare. He rails against the recent attempts to soften Shylock and the anti-semitism of the Merchant of Venice. In response, I believe that Shylock is a deeply complex character and that the recent attempts such as Al Pacino's film performance are valid. The point is not the argument but that the author forces us to think about the issue. Again, that is good. Thus, I wholeheartedly recommend the volume to get excited about the meanings of the plays.

Since I love films so much, there are interesting discussions on the films of Shakespeare's plays and he offers an opinion of the ones he loves best - Olivier as "Othello" or Scofield as "King Lear." My favorite part of the book talks about the "sword" that was passed down from actor to actor - originating in a gift from Lord Byron.
Apparently, the actor who impressed Lord Byron believed this sword should be passed down to the person who the individual thought performed Shakespeare best.
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